The Emotional Life of the Great Depression documents how Americans responded emotionally to the crisis of the Great Depression. Unlike most books about the 1930s, which focus almost exclusively on the despair of the American people during the decade, this volume explores the 1930s through other, equally essential emotions: righteousness, panic, fear, awe, love, and hope.
In expanding the canon of Great Depression emotions, the book draws on an eclectic archive of sources, including the ravings of a would-be presidential assassin, stock market investment handbooks, a Cleveland serial murder case, Jesse Owens's record-setting long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, King Edward VIII's abdication from his throne to marry a twice-divorced American woman, and the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. In concert with these, it offers new readings of the imaginative literature of the period, from obscure Christian apocalyptic novels and H.P. Lovecraft short stories to classics like John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Richard Wright's Native Son. The result is a new take on the Great Depression, one that emphasizes its major events (the stock market crash, unemployment, the passage of the Social Security Act) but also, and perhaps even more so, its sensibilities, its structures of feeling.